SEVEN GOOD READS – Rich Paschall

Books I Remember, by Rich Paschall

Recently a friend posted this to my facebook feed:

I have accepted the challenge from (a friend) to post the cover of 7 books I love. The challenge is one cover a day for 7 days. No explanations, no reviews, just the cover. Let’s promote literacy! Each day I will ask one friend to take up the challenge. Today on day 7 I nominate Rich Paschall.

My first reaction was to take a pass. I was thinking that I did not have the time for it. After looking over my friend’s choices for the week, however, I decided to give it a go. After all, I did not have to read anything new. I just needed to copy the text above, post the cover of a book and move on. I resisted all temptation at any explanation or responses to comments.

My plan was to list books that were memorable to me. The first that popped into my head would do. There was to be no drawing up lists and then picking favorites. I just posted them as they came to me. This was a little harder as I got to the end, but not for reasons you might expect.

Of all the books you have read in a lifetime that you thought were memorable, which would you pick? Which ones do you love, really love? I will give you the choices I posted on facebook, but with a few lines on each. If you have not read them, you might want to give them a chance. You don’t have to buy any. If you can not find them for free online, there are those old buildings known as libraries. Ours even has digital versions of books you can “check out” online.

Day 1.

A Separate Peace by John Knowles. I likely read this as a teenager, or perhaps early twenties. It was popular for high school and college classes at one time. At its core, it is a coming of age story. It shows the conflict between two close friends who have very different personalities. Their differences would naturally lend to disputes, as one drags the other along on his adventures. There was a fine movie version in 1972 for which Knowles worked on the screenplay.

Day 2.

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee. You may be familiar with the excellent movie starring Gregory Peck. The American Film Institute ranks it as one of the best films ever made. Peck won the Oscar. Even though it is a faithful adaptation, the book will offer you even more. It is a fascinating read dealing with complex and socially charged issues. You likely will not be able to put it down, even if you know where the story is headed.

Day 3.

The Old Man and The Sea by Ernest Hemingway. If you know anything about Hemingway’s life, you know you can find a bit of him in all his stories. That he would know and understand the toils of the old fisherman should be a given. The Pulitzer Prize-winning short novel will take you out to sea for the struggle. Like many great works of literature this also has a movie treatment.  Spencer Tracy gives a powerful performance as the aging fisherman.

Day 4.

Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The novel is long (760 pages) and rather complex. The political and social issues it tends to explore are likely best understood in light of his several earlier works. I had, in fact, read all of Pynchon’s work up to this point before venturing into the satiric novel regarding history and science.

Harry Potter library books

Day 5.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling. You have to admit, it is the book that started the world reading books on paper again. If you are one of the few who skipped this fandom, I urge you to read it. The works are not just for young people, but for all who love fantasy and adventure. This is the first of 7 novels.

Here it got a little tricky. With only two left to post I started thinking of many possibilities. I wanted to go with “A Clockwork Orange” next. I found it a fascinating read in an uncomfortable sort of way. There was also “In The Flesh.” It’s the sensational Hollywood autobiography of poet Gavin Dillard that was also a bit uncomfortable. It named, or tried to avoid naming, some well-known celebrities on the seedy side of a sometimes seedy entertainment business. There were also a number of well-known classics to consider…but I digress. And that is oddly the point of the next choice.

Day 6.

The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. The amusing novel is told through a series of digressions and diversions. The reader must pay close attention in order to know exactly where he is at in the story. In the process, you learn little about Tristram as he goes off on tangents about family, friends, and others. The structure of the lengthy work may be due in part to being published in 9 volumes over an 8 year period.

Day 7.

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. The title refers to “the temperature at which book paper catches fire and burns …” The novel deals with the issues of censorship and book burning and is set at some point in the future. In this story, the “fireman’s” job is to burn any books that are found. It is an effort to keep people from knowledge.

While some of these have excellent movie adaptations, no film treatment can match the magic of the books themselves.

See also: How Harry Potter Changed The World.”

 

THANKS, NOW LEAVE – Rich Paschall

Not Welcome Anymore, by Rich Paschall

Roger was a busy guy.  In recent months he absolutely could not find time to fit one more thing into his schedule.  The local pastor, Jared, was even busier and usually kept to a tight schedule.  His time was parceled out like the hosts he distributed on Sunday.  So it was a bit of a surprise when he dropped an email on Roger asking to meet.  “Perhaps we can get together for coffee on Thursday afternoon or Saturday morning,” the message read.  Roger picked Saturday.

When Roger turned 60 he had promised himself there would be no more big projects.  He felt he was done with community organizing, large social events, and big family gatherings.  “All the work should be done by someone else,” he thought.  But then there always seemed to be another great idea and that meant “one last hurrah.”

When a long time and dedicated school worker was to be honored, many alumni were thrilled at the idea.  In fact, they wanted to put on a special tribute and all got together to discuss the matter.  Soon after Roger was handing the proposed event to the pastor, who seemed a bit skeptical at first, but eventually supported the plan.

It's really a one way street.

It’s really a one way street.

The pastor was young and ambitious, as pastors go.  He seemed to like everyone and at first, everyone liked him.  He wanted to make an impact on the parish and if you could help him with that, he was your friend.  Soon he saw Roger and Roger’s friends as a path to increased alumni involvement and successful events.  He did not help organize in any way, but he did not hinder the progress.  For the alumni, it seemed like a great thing.  The pastor was letting them do their tribute the way they believed was appropriate.

On the other hand, the pastor’s staff was not a bit enthusiastic.  The school administration was already overburdened with projects and fund-raisers.  The grade school principal was also running the high school, or neglecting it, depending on where you heard it.  Teamwork was only something written on the gymnasium wall.  It was not practiced by those who loved to point it out.  They wanted to run the upcoming honor as a small event as they had done for others in the past.  They were not happy to share the event with “outsiders,” that is, former students.

The alumni crew worked diligently.  They looked for every way to promote the big event and make it a success.  They had been warned not to count on the school administration to do their part, but they trusted them to do what they said they would do.  When the administration looked overwhelmed at a request, the alumni chairmen would advise, “Just say no if it is too much.” Unfortunately, they were already in the habit of promising what they could not deliver.

When the big event was held, the school’s part was chaotic and ran behind schedule.  The alumni tribute was forced to start late, but went well and was loved by those in attendance.  In fact, it was the most well attended alumni event held in decades.  It would certainly be the last to draw a crowd.

When the reverend contacted Roger in the week that followed the celebration, Roger knew what the topic of conversation would be.  Since they had been friends from before the time Jared came back to be pastor, Roger thought they would have a meaningful conversation.

On the day of their coffee talk, it was cold and damp, rather like the expression on the pastor’s face.  He only put on a smile when a parishioner recognized him in the small coffee shop and came over to say “hello.” Roger and Jared sat in two large chairs with a small table in between.  Jared started.

“I was rather disappointed in the event last Saturday.  It did not go as planned,” Jared said with a bit of a scowl.  “I do not like things like that in my parish.”

Roger tried to explain what happened and how it happened and why it happened the way that it did.  Jared was not interested.  His purpose seemed to be to place blame and absolve his staff of any wrong doing.  “I hold you personally responsible because you brought the plan to me.  I do not care about co-chairmen or committee members or school administrators.  I blame you.”

It would be an understatement to say that Roger was in a state of bewilderment for almost an hour as the former friend declared that Roger was not to be involved in running any more events, in fact, “You are not welcome at any school events.  I will not tolerate anything that might embarrass me in the slightest way.”  Roger was not sure how anything that did not go quite right could embarrass someone who had no hand in running the event.

Cold, grey day

When Jared was done with his coffee, he advised Roger he could still come to services on Sunday.  Roger thought, “And I am still welcome to give to the collection,” but he did not say it out loud. He watched Jared walk out into the cold, grey day which was a perfect match for his attitude.

Roger only went back to the church one more time.  He came on Christmas to read as previously scheduled.  He wished his fellow readers, and friends well but said nothing about moving on.

A former classmate told Roger that her brother had decided to go to a different parish.  “The pastor there is warm and welcoming.  It’s something they forgot here.”  Roger smiled and nodded, but said nothing.  He left the church and walked out into the pleasant Christmas weather.  He thought of the irony of the assistant who invited him to come back home to the church 15 years earlier and the pastor who invited him to leave, since they were the same person.

THE FIFTY PERCENTERS – Rich Paschall

Resistance, a short story by Rich Paschall

After Durward Tower narrowly won his election to the Presidency late in the century, he declared that he had a landslide victory. It was a mandate by the people to make big changes needed by the country. The wealthy leaders of the Congress and of big business helped to spread this myth. It was to their economic advantage to do so.

The many appointments to the courts gave Tower supreme control of the judiciary. Many were not actually qualified for their roles, but they would support any case for which Tower had an interest.

Both houses of the legislature also bowed to the whims and wishes of the so-called Leader. The minority party had little to say and much less money to say it. By the midterm elections, Durward Tower considered himself the Supreme Leader of the land.

All during his time in office, Tower continued to hold campaign style rallies. He loved the cheers of the people, and they seemed to love him and his policies. Many did not realize that his policies were against their best interests.

“We have great ideas for the country,” Tower told his rallies. “These are the best ideas that anyone has ever had in this office. That is because I am the smartest person ever to hold this office. Trust me on this, folks.”

And they did trust him. Many did, anyway. A few were quite skeptical. When Tower started pushing his extreme policies, their suspicions were confirmed.

The biggest change came in the tax code, which then led to changes in the voting laws. Tower had convinced the populace that anyone making less that 100,000 dollars was a drag on the economy and the country. These were the people that were taking the money of the social services and they must be made to pay. He decreed that they should pay a 50 per cent income tax for being such failures. Those making less than 11,000 were only asked to pay 10 per cent.  This was to show the people that Tower was a caring humanitarian. The Legislature approved of this. This new class of people were referred to as the 50 percenters.

Sometimes enough is not enough

Citizens making between 100,000 and one billion had a graduated tax as before. These were the 100 percenters, and Tower often congratulated them for their contributions to society and to his campaigns.

According to the fearless leader, those making a billion dollars or more must be rewarded for their enormous contributions to society. “Without these people,” Tower would say, “there would be no jobs. There would be no progress. There would be no country. Trust me folks, these people must be encouraged to do more and that can only be done with tax cuts.” Durward Tower felt that billionaires should only pay ten per cent. He told everyone that this was a lot of money and more than anyone else was paying.

It was therefore declared that the 50 percenters should only have a 50 percent vote. With each one having only half a vote, their power was greatly diminished. The one hundred percenters kept to one vote per person. The billionaire class quickly became know as the two hundred percenters, as each one got 2 votes in each election.

“You all know that the country must reward the billionaire class for their hard work. They deserve more votes. They contribute so much more than some of those pathetic losers in the 50 percenters.” Ironically, most of the people that cheered this at the rallies were themselves 50 percenters.

Billie Saunders and Robert Wright were among those that felt the majority were being mistreated by Tower and followers. They decided to form a resistance. Saunders held his own rallies to tell the people about the gross inequities. Wright took to social media to spread the word. He made videos and posted them to various platforms. When the resistance gained some momentum and the protests began to grow, Tower became angry.

isys6621.com

He had his Congress pass the Patriotic Actions law. Basically, it stated that anyone who spoke out against the 50 percenters law was to be considered a traitor to the country. Any traitor was to be imprisoned for a lengthy period. Tower once again took to the rallies to sell his new law.

“People who speak out against the laws of this country are traitors. We have great  ideas for this country. They are the greatest ideas any president has ever had. We can not have any disturbances in public from these bad people. There is only one way to deal with a traitor, and you all know what that is.”

At that the chants began from the audience. “Lock him up, lock him up, lock him up.” When the crowds would erupt with his favorite chants, Tower would take a step back from the podium and survey the crowd with great pleasure. Some thought the look on his face was rather smug, but his followers only saw a patriotic gaze.

In the weeks that followed Saunders was arrested and sent to a detention camp. Wright went underground and kept posting videos and opinion pieces. He formed a resistance of people who tried to hide their identities.

Wright told the Resistance, “We know Tower has tampered with the election. We must get the best computer minds to prove what he has done.”

Meanwhile, Tower kept up his campaign against the Resistance. He used his own social media presence to send out messages to his followers. In one message he treatened to shut down a newspaper that ran an opinion piece written by Wright.

“It’s all lies,” Tower wrote, “printed by that failing paper.”

Wright and the Resistance wondered how they ever got to the place in time where the majority voice did not matter, and one demagogue’s whims became the law of the land. They continued to send out messages about the inequality, calling for people to resist the Durward Tower.

 

MYTH, MAGIC, AND HOUSEKEEPING – Marilyn Armstrong

Last night, I explained to Garry about house-elves. He isn’t a big reader of fantasy, as I am, so some of this stuff hasn’t gnawed at the edges of his consciousness.

I told him if we were to leave milk and cookies out, the little folk would come to our house. Overnight, while we sleep, they would clean, scrub, repair, and cook. Fix the roof. Clear the snow. When we got up the next morning, the coffee would be ready along with delicious, fresh baked goods.

solarized art effect horizontal kitchen

He looked at me. I think he wasn’t sure if he had heard me. “Is this like, real anywhere? Has this actually happened somewhere?”

“No,” I said. “Only in folk tales and myth. And Harry Potter. But wouldn’t it be nice if it were true? We could leave out milk, cookies, and an old pair of socks. Just in case.”

Dobby_the_house_elf

One eyebrow went up. “And something that already lives here would surely eat it. And Bonnie would abscond with the socks. Our kids would be sure to leave us something. Probably not fresh baked goods … or a clean house.”

Just for a second or two, I had him. Myth and magic live. So much better than reality, aren’t they?

DESPERADOES: RIDING WITH THE DALTONS – Marilyn Armstrong

Desperadoes: A Novel, by Ron Hansen

This is not a new book. It was released again on Kindle in May 2013. Desperadoes has been available in soft or hardcover (currently, only soft) since 1997.

I love western movies and have since I was a kid. I’ve read a lot of “western” novels too over the years, enjoyed some, didn’t much like others. Overall, I prefer this genre as cinema rather than as a book.

Nonetheless, I was drawn to this book after I realized I know very little about the personal lives and motivations of these notorious bandit gangs of the turn of the century wild west.

Until this book, I hadn’t realized the James boys, the Youngers, Coles, and the Daltons were related. Cousins. This led me to interesting speculations about the relative importance of DNA versus environment in character formation. The familial relationships certainly present some intriguing possibilities. Perhaps the cousins were all copying each other’s “feats.” The story hints that there was at least some jealousy by the Daltons of cousin Jesse’s fame.

Desperadoes is well-written and feels authentic. It feels so realistic I found myself asking how much of the story was “made up” and how much was historical. The answer is a lot of it is fact, but a lot of it isn’t. Fiction and fact are beautifully woven throughout the story. It is difficult to tease them apart. Nonetheless, this is a novel, so if you want “real” history, this isn’t it. I’m often not sure if “real” history is more realistic than well-conceived semi-historical fiction.

Jesse James

On the other hand, if you are more interested in the psychological profile of these characters and the feeling of being transported to another time and place, this might be exactly the right book. Sometimes fiction contains more truth than “only the facts” can convey.

Whether you enjoy the book will depend on if you can find a way to emotionally connect with any of the characters. All of the Daltons and their close associates lack a moral compass as well as a fundamental understanding of right and wrong. Even granting that they came from backgrounds of extreme deprivation — and their role models were as depraved as they themselves became — it’s hard to understand the characters’ rapid, virtual overnight transformation from relatively decent people and officers of the law into rustlers, bank robbers, and sadistic thrill killers.

Despite occasional actions that could be interpreted as “gallant” or at least decent, their primary goal was attention. Fame. They wanted to be feared and recognized. Towards that end, they also stole money but money was never a primary motivator. To achieve this end, there were no lines they would not cross, no rules they would not break. At no point is there any feeling that it mattered a whit to any of them how many people’s lives they ruined or ended. They were sociopaths (maybe psychopaths — I’ve never been entirely clear on the difference), utterly lacking in empathy except for one another … and there were limits to that, too.

$15,000 was a LOT of money in the late 1800s!

The story is told in the first person by Emmett Dalton, the one brother who survived. He went out to Hollywood where they were happy (apparently) to pay him big bucks to “advise” and provide authenticity to the making of movies.

Of all the bandits — all his brothers and cousins — only he remained alive to “cash in” on the notoriety.

Ironically, they started as lawmen. While still functioning in that capacity, they began rustling horses. They didn’t think there was anything particularly wrong with it. It wasn’t that they didn’t know it was illegal, but the whole “right” and “wrong” thing seems to have been rather hazy to them. Moreover, working as a sheriff or deputy sheriff was so poorly paid they actually couldn’t live on the money. So they initially considered horse-stealing a way to supplement their incomes. They eventually were caught though only big brother Gratton (Grat) (probably mildly retarded) was arrested for rustling.

Grat spent a bit of time in jail, but was ultimately released. A trial would have embarrassed the judge who had employed the Daltons as lawmen. He didn’t want it known his employees were horse thieves. Except that everyone knew. It just wasn’t official — and never became official.

The Dalton boys’ decision to become an outlaw gang was exactly that: a choice. They were not forced into a life of crime. They genuinely enjoyed being outlaws and criminals. They liked beating people up, breaking their body parts and killing them, sometimes just because they felt like it. No sense of remorse is forthcoming through the voice of the narrator.

Emmett, as the first-person narrator, supposedly was privy to every moment of the life of his brothers. This is a bit hard to swallow unless the other gang members spent all of their free time telling Emmett everything they had done since they’d last talked. You have to suspend your credibility or there’s no way to get into the book.

Memento Mori of the Dalton Gang. Left to right...

Left to right: Bill Power; Bob Dalton; Grat Dalton, Dick Broadwell (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Of the Dalton lads (there were 15 brothers and sisters and you never learn what happened to most of the others) Bob is the true glory hound. Grat is a big dumb guy who seemed to not have any thoughts about much of anything. Emmett, two years younger than Bob, is his older brother’s passionate admirer.

His adulation of Bob Dalton was unlimited, though to Emmett’s credit (?), he did occasionally think up an interesting crime to commit, so he was not without a degree of personal creativity. Of the gang, he also appeared to be the only one with any capacity for love — in a severely circumscribed way.

Then there’s Bob’s psychopathic girlfriend, Eugenia Moore who was the real brains of the outfit, though perhaps brains is too strong a word.

As you can probably tell, I didn’t like the characters. There is a high probability that the author has captured the essence of these people accurately, but accuracy alone wasn’t enough to make me enjoy being in their company. Ultimately, if I can’t relate to at least one character in a book, it’s difficult for me to enjoy the story. I spent the first half of this book looking for a redeeming feature in someone. I spent the rest of the book wishing I’d never started reading it in the first place.

English: Grave of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and ...

Grave of Bob Dalton, Grat Dalton and Bill Power (Photo: Wikipedia)

This was Ron Hansen’s first novel. He has written a dozen or so since then and he is highly regarded. I have no argument with his skill as a writer and perhaps I would like his later novels and non-fiction better than Desperadoes.

I didn’t hate the book, but I didn’t enjoy it. Perhaps the nature of the material foreordained my response. Sadistic, vicious killers are not romantic. I don’t find a trip through their minds fun. Interesting is as good as I can give it.

They make my skin crawl. Other people obviously did like the book very much and it has received excellent reviews. If you can read it as a case study of a bunch of old-timey psychopaths — or are they sociopaths? I’m never sure of the difference) — you might like it better than I did. It is well-written though thoroughly unpleasant. I guess that’s what you get when you write about outlaw gangs, even when you write really well.

WHEN DO I LOOK LIKE ME? – Marilyn Armstrong

Considering one thing and another, I have always been sure I could not possibly be related to the people who raised me. I suspect everyone, especially as a child, is sure they are a misplaced orphan. Sadly, there was always one problem from which I could never escape.

I look just like them. Both of them. They didn’t look alike, so how could this be?

Photo: Garry Armstrong

Apparently, you change as you age. So you can look exactly like dad when you’re three, but exactly like mom when you’re sixty. Periodically, depending on how the genetic package rolls, you can resemble one or the other — or both  — at any given point in time.

I used to look like my father, but I got older. Now, look like my mother.

I wonder if I’ll ever look like me? Whatever that means.

I know nothing about what brought me into the world any more than I know what will take me out. Probably, that’s just as well. I think I lack curiosity about my fate which others apparently have a strong need to know. I never felt any serious desire to research my ancestry or get my DNA checked. When I did it, it was a fun birthday present for Garry and I.

What was, is. What will be, will occur. I’m not in charge and never was. I am okay enjoying as much of the now as I can while I’m still part of it.

Yet, every now and then, I wonder if it’s possible I was actually put here by a transiting starcraft. An intergalactic seed dropped from the sky that somehow, wound up in this world. In this peculiar place. A bit of pollen falling from a drifting craft on its way to somewhere in an infinite beyond.

It could be true.

SHRIMP SKIMP – Marilyn Armstrong

FOWC with Fandango — Skimp

“What is this?” she asked him as he portioned out dinner on the plates.

“Hot and sour Chinese fried shrimp,” he said proudly.

“I sense the Chinese part, although as hot and sour goes, it’s not really that,” she commented, “But where is the shrimp? And for that matter, are we out of hot sauce too?”

“We were a bit short on shrimp. I couldn’t work out the sour part, so I just made do with what we had. Since I skimped on the shrimp, I added extra vegetables.”

“I haven’t found a single shrimp yet.”

“Maybe I skimped a bit too much,” he admitted and went fishing in the pan. “Here’s one,” he announced proudly. “Wait a minute, I think I see another one in there. No, that’s a water chestnut. There’s got to be another one in here somewhere…” as he trailed off.

“Listen. You can cook anything any way you like,  but if you don’t have the ingredients, maybe try a different dish?”

“Okay. We’re having hot and sour fried mystery shrimp with Chinese vegetables. Is that better?”

“It isn’t hot. It isn’t sour. And you didn’t fry anything,” she pointed out, using her well-worn chopsticks as she plowed through dinner. “It tastes okay, but you need a new recipe name. It is shrimpless. Fundamentally, it’s missing all the key ingredients. It tastes okay, but… Well, I’m not sure what it is, exactly. Pass the hot sauce. Maybe use chicken next time? You won’t have to skimp quite as much.”